Tired of Texans running for president? 2024 may be reprieve

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FILE - Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ask a question during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Feb. 9, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. It's early yet, but next year's presidential race may feature something the political world hasn't seen in the last 50 years: no elected officials from Texas. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s early yet, but next year’s presidential race may feature something the political world hasn't seen in the last 50 years: no Texans.

The Texas-size hole in the field will be on stark display Friday at a closed Republican donor event outside the state capital, Austin, featuring the likes of former Vice President Mike Pence, who is expected to mount a campaign, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who announced her bid last week.

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Some Texans could still run. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott won’t decide until after Memorial Day. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who ran in 2016, says he’s focused for now on reelection next year. Will Hurd, a onetime CIA agent and former Republican congressman from San Antonio, is seriously considering a bid and may bring on staff, aides say.

If none of them seeks the White House, it’d be the first time since 1972 without at least one major candidate who rose to public prominence in Texas or lived in the state while running for or holding office.

Finding the next most recent Texan-less presidential cycle requires going all the way back to 1952, four years before Lyndon B. Johnson made his first attempt at the White House.

“Clearly, there’s some constitutional amendment that voters supported back in the day that says, ‘If you’re a governor of Texas, you must consider running for president,’” joked Dave Carney, Abbott's chief strategist and a top strategist to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2012 presidential bid. “And many of them have. For good or bad.”

Some Texans' White House runs were indeed forgettable.

That includes Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s 1976 run and bids by Republican Rep. Ron Paul in 2008 and Republican Sen. Phil Gramm in 1996. John Connally was Texas’ Democratic governor from 1963 until 1969 but sought the White House as a Republican in 1980. Dallas businessman Ross Perot never held elected office but mounted major presidential campaigns in 1992 and 1996.

Indeed, if this cycle proceeds without a Texas official, it won't be a sign of the state’s waning political influence. Texas’ booming population has added nearly 4 million residents since 2010 while getting younger and more diverse. Its strong economy has attracted tech companies and corporate stalwarts who have flocked in from around the country.

Texas has also become a bastion of conservative priorities, enacting one of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion laws even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and dramatically loosening gun restrictions while calling for federal crackdowns along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think every year a Texan’s not in the presidential race is disappointing to me,” said George Seay, a major GOP donor based in Dallas who was Perry’s finance chair in 2012 and supported Marco Rubio in 2016.

“With all due respect to Florida, which is an incredibly compelling, right-leaning state from a political standpoint,” Seay added, “Texas is the sun, the moon and the stars.”

A possible presidential race without a Texan would be a departure from recent cycles, which featured more than one. The 2012 GOP presidential primary pitted Paul against Perry and 2016's featured Perry and Cruz. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro both ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Although only three presidents have actually called Texas home, the state has left a mark on Washington.

Long after he left office, a Braniff Airlines flight dubbed the “LBJ Special” continued to fly from Washington Dulles to Austin every afternoon, an unusual nonstop flight for the time. President George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, was the “Western White House” but only because Johnson’s ranch in Stonewall, where he spent nearly a quarter of his presidency, had already claimed the “Texas White House” moniker.

Bush even flew his favorite caterer, Eddie Deen, from suburban Dallas to Washington to serve smoked ribs and stuffed jalapenos at his inaugural balls. His father, President George H.W. Bush, was a congressman from Houston and incorporated the state's rugged ethos into his political brand, trying to season his Northeast upbringing with a dash of down-home.

“Everything is bigger in Texas, including the egos of our already outsize politicians,” said Mark Updegrove, CEO of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, who noted that playing up their Texas swagger has paid off through the decades for presidential candidates from both parties.

Since the modern era of presidential campaigning began in 1972, Texans have been involved in more cycles than any other state. Candidates from California have launched more overall bids at 19, according to Eric Ostermeier, a research fellow at University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. But Texans and New Yorkers are second, producing 15 total candidacies each.

Ostermeier says he counts a home state as where a candidate rose to public prominence or lived when they ran for office. That means Houston-born Marianne Williamson, who lives in Beverly Hills and is readying a 2024 Democratic presidential bid, would qualify as a Californian.

More clarity on possible Texans in the 2024 primary campaign will come after the state Legislature adjourns in late May. Carney said Abbott will then “look at what the state of the race is, and does he have something that would be differentiating to the race that would be attractive to voters.”

“The governor will not be a spoiler,” Carney said. “But, if he thinks he has something to offer, he might run. If he thinks there’s enough folks running with the same, similar ideas that he has,” then probably not.

Hurd, who retired from Congress in 2021 after three terms representing Texas' most competitive House district, traveled to New Hampshire recently and is planning trips to other early primary states.

Cruz says he's concentrating on his Senate race next year but hasn't ruled out another presidential run. He could do both. Texas’ so-called LBJ law allows running for Senate and president simultaneously, and Bentsen was reelected to his seat while losing the vice presidency in 1988.

A Cruz aide called the prospect of no Texans in the presidential race since 1972 a “clever bit of trivia.” ___

Weissert reported from Washington.

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